Long Lasting Effects of Math Anxiety


Parents like myself, who thought that they have washed their hands off math homework on the last day of high school, will be saddened to know that incomprehensible math is once again their problem. And, if you believe social media, the situation is far more dire than it was in our day, largely due to something called Common Core.

Common Core, which sounds like an egalitarian pilates class, is actually a national standard for teaching math (and other subjects) that has been established in more than 40 states. One essential factor of Common Core is that students comprehend the true principles at work behind a math problem, this often means that shortcuts and mnemonics are discarded in favor of conceptual understanding. Another feature of Common Core is that way it seems to strike fear and confusion into the heart of parents; from those who have a self-diagnosed case of math anxiety, to others who have aced the subject in the past.

Comedian Louis C.K. vented about the standards to his large Twitter fan base:

“My kids used to love math. Now it makes them cry. Thanks standardized testing and Common Core!,” he wrote.

Another parent, this time engineer Jeff Severt, was helping his son with a math problem. The question asked to diagnose why Jack made a mistake in his subtraction and asked students to write Jack a letter. Severt responded saying:

Dear Jack, Don’t feel bad. I have a bachelor of science degree in engineering which included extensive study in differential equations and other higher math applications. Even I cannot explain the Common Core mathematics approach, nor get the correct answer. In the real world, simplification is favored over complication.

Then he solved the problem with basic subtraction.

The latest rant to go viral belonged to a man named Doug Herrmann from Ohio who joked about sending a check to his son’s elementary school using a drawing of ten-frame cards in place of the amount. “Wrote a check to Melridge Elementary using common core numbers. I wonder if they’ll take it? ‪#‎YouFigureItOut‬,” he said on his Facebook page.  

To be fair, the ten-frame cards are not Common Core numbers, but a tool to help visualise the number ten. Technically ten-frames are not even part of the standard. However, what they are is a symbol of how different your kids’ math classes are to yours.

“Almost every parent comes in and says, ‘This is not how I learned math,’ ” fourth-grade teacher Melissa Palermo said to The Washington Post. The students, however, seem to be soaking up the benefits. Palermo believes they have a more thorough understanding of math than their predecessors.

“The toughest part is the homework part because parents, it’s so hard for them,” Palermo said. “A lot of parents, they doubt themselves because there are all these models and things they’ve never seen before.”

Palermo is quoted in an article about schools that hold special sessions for parents (read adult math lessons!) to teach them about common core.

“The kids who come to us are a clean slate,” said Jennifer Patanella, an instructional coach with the Rochester public schools. “It’s the adults who have to be retrained.”

Perhaps that’s the hair-raising feature of common core math: you are stuck doing homework, again.

So readers, what are your thoughts on common core? Do you think it helps kids gain a more thorough understanding of math or will you be moving to one of the four states that have banished the standard?


Marina Gomer is a journalist and mother of one.  She lives with her family in Sydney, Australia.